NHL: Merits Of Firing The Head Coach, Five That Could Be

Kevin WContributor IINovember 23, 2010

NHL: Merits Of Firing The Head Coach, Five That Could Be

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    SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 5: Head coach Brent Sutter of the Calgary Flames talks to team members during a time out in the third period of the game against the Florida Panthers on February 5, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Flames def
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Trades have become increasingly difficult to make in this era of the National Hockey League with numerous budget-conscious teams and many teams operating at the salary cap ceiling. Those facing ownership uncertainty include the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars and those spending to the cap ceiling include the Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.

    Unable to make trades and teams with their hands strapped by lifetime contracts, the head coach has become the scapegoat for a team's troubles.

    Lindy Ruff is the longest tenured coach in the NHL, having been with the Buffalo Sabres since 1997. The next longest tenured is Barry Trotz who has been behind the bench of the Nashville Predators since 1998.

    After that there is a tie between the Detroit Red Wings' Mike Babcock and Anaheim Ducks' Randy Carlyle who have been with their teams since 2005.

    Teams have become growingly less reluctant to fire their head coaches after the Pittsburgh Penguins fired head coach Michel Therrien, who guided the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals that past spring, with 25 games remaining in the regular season. Dan Bylsma, at 39 years old and with no prior head coaching experience at any level, would take over the team on an interim basis and lead them to a 18-3-4 record to finish the regular season and a Stanley Cup victory.

    It is also worth noting that Stanley Cup-winning coaches since the the NHL lockout have not been with their respective teams for longer than three years.

    Joel Quenneville was in his second year with the Chicago Blackhawks when they won in 2010. Bylsma was in his first year with Pittsburgh in 2009. Babcock was in his third year with Detroit in 2008. Carlyle was in his second year with Anaheim in 2007. Peter Laviolette was in his second season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

    It has also been proven that changing head coaches midway through the season is a season changer.

    Bruce Boudreau inherited the last place, 6-14-1 Washington Capitals in November 2007 and turned their entire season around. He compiled a 37-17-7 record en route to a Southeast Division crown and a Jack Adams Trophy win as the league's top coach.

    Paul Maurice took over the 12-11-2 Carolina Hurricanes in December 2008 and guided the team to the Eastern Conference finals while compiling a 33-19-5 record.

    Which five National Hockey League head coaches do I think could be at risk of being fired? Read on to find out.

Marc Crawford, Dallas Stars

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    BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 10: Head coach Marc Crawford of the Dallas Stars gives last-minute instructions to his team during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the HSBC Arena on March 10, 2010 in Buffalo, New York. The Sabres defeated the Stars 5-3. (Photo
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    After Brett Hull and Les Jackson were fired as co-general managers, new rookie general manager Joe Nieuwendyk would fire head coach Dave Tippett, electing to hire Stanley Cup-winning Marc Crawford.

    Under his guidance, Crawford was able to improve his team's points total from 83 in 2008-09 under Tippett to 88 in 2009-10, but failed to improved his team's position in the standings. Crawford's offense-first mentality was also only able to improve the team's goals per game average from 2.73 to only 2.80. The team missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

    Nineteen games into the 2010-11 season, the Stars have been unable to play a consistent brand of hockey and have been running hot and cold. The Stars started off the season 5-1 before losing three straight, winning three straight, losing three straight, winning two straight, and heading into action on Wednesday, November 24 have lost two straight.

    Until the ownership situation in Dallas is resolved, which could be tomorrow or next year, the window for the team to win is now while they have Brad Richards under contract. If the team does not start vaulting up the standings and playing consistently, Nieuwendyk may opt to switch coaches in an attempt to turn the team's fortunes around.

Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks

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    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 23:  Head coach Randy Carlyle of the Anaheim Ducks looks on from the bench during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on December 23, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 4-0.  (Photo b
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Along with Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, Randy Carlyle is the third longest tenured coach and you wonder if his shelf-life has come to an end. Since winning the Stanley Cup championship in 2007, Carlyle's team has been on a downward spiral.

    A year after their championship season, his team would make the playoffs, but were defeated by the Dallas Stars in six games.

    The team had struggled for much of the 2008-09 campaign before general manager Bob Murray pulled off two trades to bring in defenceman James Wisniewski from the Chicago Blackhawks and Ryan Whitney from the Pittsburgh Penguins to salvage the season. The team caught fire squeaking in as the eighth seed in the Western Conference and then upsetting the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

    In 2009-10, the Anaheim Ducks would miss the playoffs by six points after compiling a 39-32-11 record and finishing the season 5-2-3 in the last ten games.

    Part of the struggles can be attributed to the dismantling of the Stanley Cup winning defense by general manager Bob Murray, but when questioned by the owners, the general manager is not going to blame himself.

Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks

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    DENVER - OCTOBER 03:  Head coach Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks leads his team against  the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on October 3, 2009 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Alain Vigneault is in his fifth season behind the bench of the Vancouver Canucks, but like Anaheim's Randy Carlyle his shelf-life could be coming to an end.

    Three times his teams has failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs and completely missed the playoffs once. It's not like any of his teams lacked any talent as each and every year the team spent to the cap ceiling.

    The 2006-07 season saw general manager Dave Nonis acquire centre Bryan Smolinki and defenceman Brent Sopel to strengthen an already strong defensive team. Roberto Luongo would have a Vezina season as well, but this team lost in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Anaheim Ducks in thesecond round.

    The following season, the team would finish last in the Northwest Division and 11th in the Western Conference to miss the playoffs.

    In the 2008-09 season, new Canucks general manager Mike Gillis would make a big splash and sign free agent winger Pavol Demitra and centre Mats Sundin, providing Vigneault with two No. 1 lines to work with. This team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the second round.

    The Chicago Blackhawks would stop the Canucks in their tracks again in the 2009-10 season, defeating them once again in six games in the second round.

Brent Sutter, Calgary Flames

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    CALGARY, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 15: Head coach Brent Sutter of the Calgary Flames yells from the bench during the third period against the Edmonton Oilers in NHL preseason action on September 15, 2009 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (
    Mike Ridewood/Getty Images

    Brent Sutter was hired as the head coach for the 200-10 season after he resigned from his position with the New Jersey Devils citing family reasons. He was expected to lead the team past the first round since Darryl Sutter did it in 2003-04.

    In his first year as head coach, he had (some would say) the best defence in the league to work with featuring Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich.

    The defence did not quite work for Brent, so older brother and general manager Darryl Sutter decided to shake things up by adding more offence. Phaneuf along with top prospect Keith Aulie and winger Fredrik Sjostrom were sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenceman Ian White, centre Matt Stajan, and winger Jamal Mayers.

    That shakeup was not enough to salvage the season for Sutter and the Flames had their worst season since 2002-03; finishing 40-32-10 and 90 points.

    Through 20 games, the Flames are on pace for a 33-45-4 record and 70 points which would be their worst since 1997-98 when they finished with 67 points.

    If things don't improve, there is a strong possibility he could get the axe.

    Big brother Darryl Sutter is no longer the only man running the show as Jay Feaster is on board as assistant general manager. The trade of Darryl's son Brett Sutter last week is an indication that he does not wield the same power he once did.

Ron Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 13:  Head Coach Ron Wilson of the Toronto Maple Leafs watches his team play against the Pittsburgh Penguinson October 13, 2010 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Ron Wilson was Brian Burke's buddy that he brought over to coach his Toronto Maple Leafs team after Wilson was fired as head coach of the San Jose Sharks after the 2007-08 season. 

    Under Wilson, the Maple Leafs have not returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs and in his two seasons, the Leafs have finished worse than his predecessor. Paul Maurice in his last year led the team to a 36-35-11 record and 83 points for 12th place in the Eastern Conference.

    In his first season, Wilson's team finished below .500 with a 34-35-13 record and saw the point total drop to 81 points for another 12th place finish.

    In 2009-10, his second season, the team did even worst finishing eight games below .500 and last place in the Eastern Conference with 74 points and a 30-38-14 record. Unacceptable considering general manager Brian Burke dipped into the free agent market to pickup defencemen Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin that summer and then picked up defenceman Dion Phaneuf and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere midseason.